The new 2021 O'Toole. Image: Video still/Unifor

With election fever running high throughout the land, Unifor’s new third-party political advertisement started showing up on social media yesterday and it was too good not to share in the final hours of this August long weekend.

It’s an attack ad that mimics the cliches of automotive advertising, and Erin O’Toole, the latest hapless leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, is the target.

Guilt by association plays a powerful role in the 30-second ad’s plotline. It plays on O’Toole’s association with former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, who remains unpopular among large numbers of Canadians, as well as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who is working hard these days to achieve new levels of mass unpopularity.

Whether “the 2021 O’Toole,” the metaphorical battered pickup truck that Canada’s largest private-sector union warns is ready to steer Canada in the wrong direction as it literally falls apart before our eyes is intended as a sort of negative tribute to Kenney’s big blue Dodge Ram is a question that will have to remain unanswered for the moment.

The image of a well-shod foot on the gas pedal suggests it might have been, Premier Kenney being a fake pickup kind of guy if ever there was one.

My guess is that the poseur premier’s big Dodge helped inspire the concept, but getting that message across wasn’t a big concern to the script writers Unifor used. After all, the ad is clearly directed at voters in central Canada and elsewhere who live far from the reflexively Conservative Prairies, and who likely wouldn’t get the reference.

What they do get, though, is that Kenney and the United Conservative Party are doing bad things to Alberta, which is why the ad’s scratchy-voiced narrator reminds viewers that the new O’Toole is “driven to gut health care and education, just like Jason Kenney.”

Doug Ford must be thanking his lucky stars, and not for the first time, that his former bromantic partner from Alberta is even more unpopular than the Ontario premier is, which is quite the achievement. Or, since it’s just a sound track, maybe there’s a Doug Ford version to play in Ontario.

The ad is one of the funnier political spots you’ll ever see. Back in the day, there used to be a school of thought in the advertising business that negative ads that also tried to be funny didn’t work very well — that viewers remembered the joke, but not the attack.

Alert readers will recall the Conservatives’ 2015 “he’s just not ready” job interview sketch attacking Justin Trudeau. It was funny, but it didn’t get results. There were plenty of other reasons for Harper’s lack of success that year as well, however, the former prime minister himself being the principal one.

In this case, it would be impossible to get the joke without understanding the point of it, so I’m inclined to think Unifor’s message will stick to O’Toole quite nicely, thank you very much.

There’s also a view in the advertising business that humourous attack ads inoculate the advertiser — or the advertiser’s favoured candidates — against the otherwise nearly inevitable effect of having some of the negativity rub off on the people the ad is intended to help.

Certainly there was nothing humourous about what Unifor National President Jerry Dias had to say about O’Toole in the union’s news release. “O’Toole can’t even control members of his own party while they move to attack abortion access and LGBTQ rights,” he stated. “We cannot trust him to lead, and we’re ready to take on this fight.”

As for the suggestion by some social media bloviators that pickup drivers might not like the ads because they own battered trucks themselves, give Unifor some credit. They used to be the Canadian Auto Workers. They know that Canada’s working-class pickup drivers don’t want a beat-up old Mazda like the one in the ad — they want big Detroit diesels like the ones North American automakers used to make in Canada and now assemble almost exclusively in Mexico.

“Unifor, like all unions, has a constitutional right to participate in elections and a responsibility to defend members’ interests whenever Canadians go to the polls,” Dias said — a warning to governments like Kenney’s that would try to silence unions’ voices in election campaigns.

Perhaps, come the day, Unifor’s national office will just ignore the UCP’s unconstitutional efforts to muzzle Alberta’s unions and use its national platform to speak for this province’s union members.

Dias, like former Canadian Labour Congress president and current Canadian Senator Hassan Yussuff, has been criticized in some parts of the labour movement for being too close to Trudeau and the Liberals, and not close enough to the federal NDP. This ad, however, steers away from endorsing a potential prime minister — as long as it’s not Erin O’Toole.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: Video still/Unifor

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...